Review: Joyeux Noël

Can you imagine a less useful treatise in the mist of our current War on Terror?

Joyeux Noël
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

The Capraesque centerpiece of Joyeux Noël, a recreation of a 1914 Christmas Eve cease fire between enemy troops on the Western Front, is built from a series of fuzzily developed narrative threads and flip pieces of ominous detail; there’s not a single object or corpse under the watch of director Christian Carion’s camera that doesn’t make a dramatic reappearance in the film at a later point. When a Scottish boy informs his brother that the war is officially on, he runs out of the church where he ostensibly worships—the door closes behind him, blowing out a series of candles whose plumes of smoke suggest the brothers and their Anglican priest, not to mention the audience of the film, are in for a heap of trouble. Over in Germany, a stage performance is cut short by the declaration of war, which will threaten to separate a soprano (Benno Fürmann) and his singing partner (Diane Krüge) in subsequent months. Hanging out in the German trenches during the war, the soprano inadvertently seduces the enemies across the way with his (terribly lip-synced) singing voice. A funny little truce is negotiated by all parties involved and audiences are invited to cluck their tongues at how easily man can lob a wrench into the war machine and stop it from spinning. The French, Scottish, and German sing, drink, and trade family stories while the Scottish boy from the film’s opening scene weeps for his dead brother as a friendly German soldier approaches with a bottle of champagne in his hands. It is here that audiences are asked to contemplate how easily the boy could blow the truce if he allows his emotions to get the better of him—or, more ridiculously, how the champagne bottle’s popped cork might sound like gunfire to the nearby troops. Such is the way this trite film abuses the grief of its subjects and rigs itself with potentially explosive ironic incident. It’s Carion’s manipulative way of boosting a naïve proposition that doesn’t really stress the shared humanity of its characters so much as their shared love for singing Christmas carols! Can you imagine a less useful treatise in the mist of our current War on Terror?

 Cast: Diane Krüger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Danny Boon, Daniel Brühl, Alex Ferns, Steven Robertson, Lucas Belvaux, Bernard Le Coq, Ian Richardson, Frank Witter, Thomas Schmauser, Joachim Bissmeier, Robin Laing, Suzanne Flon, Michel Serrault, Philippe Rombi  Director: Christian Carion  Screenwriter: Christian Carion  Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics  Running Time: 115 min  Rating: R  Year: 2005  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Altman Weekend

Next Story

Review: The Lost City